Humans have tried many techniques to figure out why some stories work to explain the weather, or illness, or the health of crops. Planetary alignments, incantations, and prophesies are examples. Most recently, people have relied upon on the scientific method. The development of the scientific method is often proclaimed as a ‘break-through’ event in human history. As a tool of logic, the scientific method has constructed many reliable stories about manifold phenomena. However, it also initiated the ‘break-down’ of unified perceptions that prevail in pre-modern cultures. This is because the scientific method stipulates that phenomena must be reduced to manageable units, the relevant components must be isolated, and the affecting variables limited in order to control the processes and outcomes being studied. Sanitized and climate-controlled settings of laboratories are a far remove from normal conditions of variability and complexity.
Applied to animals, this approach to research became zoology. Applied to the earth’s surface, it became geology. ‘Ologies’ proliferated, splitting the natural sciences into ever more specialized scientific disciplines. A web site entitled ‘List of Ologies’ contains 197 entries in alphabetical order. It concludes with Xyology, the study of wood and Zymology, the study of fermentation.
The discipline of ecology is reversing this ‘divide to conquer’ scientific approach.
The first principle of ecology is that all things are connected.
Life on Earth depends upon transfers of energy and exchanges of matter. All material entities are united. None can, for example, escape the power of the sun that governs all living and non-living entities. Thus, the fate of each human life is determined by the conditions it shares with its neighbors, both human and non human.
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Artists model humanity’s highest standards of environmental responsibility by reversing the environmentally disastrous effects of ‘consumerist materialism’. Such materialism assumes that material goods will always be cheap, abundant, and replaceable, and therefore undeserving of moderation, stewardship, and accountability. This neglectful attitude currently prevails in advanced industrial nations, including artists’ choices of mediums and tools.
A responsible form of material interaction is known as ‘ecological materialism’. It honors the imperative, imposed by the planet-wide disruption of ecosystem functions, that all material interactions and all material choices consider current and long term effects on water, air, soil, and weather, and all forms of life.
Geology (e.g. glaciers), engineering (e.g. sewers), living systems (e.g. gardens), three towering planetary systems, have recently shed their former association with glory and have adopted new identities fraught with danger, contamination, and alienation.
Glaciers once evoked images of majestic and enduring mountains of ice.
Now glaciers are melting, signalling changes in climate that are ominous, imminent, and global.
Once sewers were honored as evidence of humanity’s problem-solving capacity and engineering ingenuity.
WALTER DE MARIA died on on July 26. He was 77. Despite his penchant for constructiing monumental outdoor installations out of shiny geometric shapes and mathematical configurations.”The Lightning Field” epitomizes the grandeur of his reputation. DeMaria was known to be reclusive and uncomfortable with media attention. He seldom gave interviews, disliked being photographed, and often avoided participating in museum shows. Yet he became celebrated as “one of the greatest artists of our time” according to LA County Museum of Art director Michael Govan and many other influential contributors to contemporary art discourse. Govan described the singular quality of deMaria’s work as “sublime and direct.”
Meanwhile, Jerry Saltz summons a slew of ecstatic adjectives that seem more likely to appear in the work of a romanticist, not a minimalist like de Maria. He is particularly enraptured by The New York Earth Room. This permanent DIA installation fills the entire second floor of a large loft space in SoHo, NYC. This interior earth work consists of 250 cubic yards of black soil filling 3,600 square feet at a depth of 22 inches. Entry is barred by a sheet of glass only a few inches higher than the dirt. It weighs 280,000 pounds and has been exhibited in this location since 1980. Saltz declares the work fills him “with ecstatic quiet, and quivers of the surreal sublime, implacable force of nature, nobility of architecture, and acuteness of the human senses.”
“Cow bladder assembler for a Mardi Gras parade float.”
“Bat Cave Scavenger”
“Worm Dung Farmer”
“Casino Food Recycler”
“Dairy Cow Midwife”
All these professions have been featured on the television show, “Dirty Jobs” hosted by Mike Rowe since 2005. They are carefully selected to elicit ‘yuk’ sounds of disgust. Look closely, and you may note that each one contributes to the vitality and productivity of living systems.
Three approaches to the impending warming of the globe’s climate emerged after reviewing the applications for this year’s Buckminster Fuller Challenge award – a $100,000 grant with no strings attached. The recipient is a pragmatic visionary who fulfills Bucky’s holistic world view and confirms his faith in human ingenuity. Serving as one of six jurors provided a rare glimpse at problem-solving innovations that are capable of planet-wide impact.
None displayed the public’s prevailing response to predictions of climate change – DISREGARD. Some were pro-active. Others were re-active. But all were active.
What shall we name the current epoch?
There is a consensus within the International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization that determines the naming of eras. It asserts that the Holocene epoch is over (it lasted for almost 12,000 years). Yet this consensus has not averted a contentious debate that pits scientists against environmentalists regarding the choice of a new name.
Strife surrounds the leading name candidate – “The Anthropocene Era”. The term derives from ‘anthropo’, for human, and ‘cene’, for new.
What is new about humans?
The answer inferred by the term ‘anthropocene’ is the impact of human life upon the globe. But, you might protest, human impact can be traced back to A.D. 900 when agriculturists began to leave their marks upon the planet. The justification is that someting significant IS new. It is the nature and the intensity of this impact. As a species, humans are now causing mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluting the waterways and the atmosphere, eroding topsoil, causing habitat loss and species invasions, depleting resources, and wreaking havoc on the Earth’s material and energetic systems in countless other ways.
“The very freedom to tell gives art enormous power.“
This provocative sentence appears in the current issue of the Brooklyn Rail. It was written by the artist, Lenore Malen, in response to a pithy question posed by guest editor, Carter Ratcliff. He asked, “What Is Art?“
What is art? Malen writes, “Useless, an empty signifier, but also the currency for global capital and high stakes gambling, of great value and interest to millions of people who wait patiently in extremely long lines, and completely irrelevant to countless others…”
Although some eco artworks promote sensory and emotive engagements, the clear functionality of much eco art introduces a particularly disputed form of innovation.
Eco art tampers with the popular assumption that art can only engage the human spirit because it frequently seems indistinguishable from engineering, gardening, farming, etc.
How can eco artists defend themselves against the accusation that pragmatic practices do not belong within the realm of ‘art’?